Part of Oct 2012 by

The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival Blossums Into Polari

This being its 25th year, the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) opted for a major facelift. A clever new re-branding scheme changed the name of the festival to Polari, thus removing any gender-specific terminology (which seems to be in a constant state of flux anyway) in an attempt to make the festival more open to everyone (not just gays and lesbians, as suggested by the aGLIFF name). Like the obscure British slang language that Polari adopts its name from, the new title for the festival will still be understood by LGBT insiders (at least those with a knowledge of LGBT history), but will not necessarily shine off-putting rainbow flags in the eyes of mainstream society.

The changes are clearly not in name alone, as Polari programmed a plethora of films from the queer film festival circuit that have successfully crossed over into the mainstream festival circuit. Suddenly, I found myself facing the same dilemma I have at most mainstream film festivals, an unconquerable list of must sees: Call Me Kuchu, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, Facing Mirrors, Four, Fourplay, Heavy Girls, The Invisible Men, Keep the Lights On, Mosquita y Mari, My Brother the Devil, North Sea Texas, Sassy Pants, United in Anger: A History of Act Up, and Yossi. I only wish that I could have seen them all; but with each film only screening once, there were far too many films for me to see during Polari’s abbreviated five-day time span.

Nonetheless, here are some of my highlights from Polari 2012:

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same — Hands down one of the funniest films I have seen all year, writer-director Madeleine Olnek‘s Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same is a micro-budget nonsensical screwball farce about three bald lesbian aliens who are exiled to Earth in order to discover heart break thus saving their home planet’s ozone layer.

Olnek plays off of the low budget nature of mid-century alien invasion flicks — you know, the ones that were all about the rabid fear of a communist invasion — with über-campy costume (Linda Gui) and production design (Rebecca Conroy, Bryan Heyboer) that is cleverly accented with black and white cinematography (Nat Bouman). But where this micro-budget independent production truly excels is in its script and performances. Susan Ziegler, Jackie Monahan and Cynthia Kaplan are outstanding as the three aliens who speak in unnaturally stilted monotone patterns with perfect comedic timing. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that CLSASS is destined to become a midnight cult classic — more importantly, one with a positive social commentary to back up its side-splitting laughs.

My Brother the Devil — In her debut feature My Brother the Devil, writer-director Sally El Hosaini develops a narrative that portrays Muslims and gays outside of their stereotypical constructs. Rashid (James Floyd) and his little brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) have been raised in a traditional, working class, Egyptian household on a housing estate in a rough and tumble London hood. Rashid is a boxer who earns money by doing “road” work — dealing drugs — for a neighborhood gang. Mo idolizes Rashid and wants to follow in his footsteps, but it is important to Rashid that Mo do well in school, proceed to a university and establish a legitimate career.

My Brother the Devil breaks free of the confines of traditional gangland narratives, going far beyond a rudimentary discussion of fraternal (and familiar) bonds. El Hosaini intelligently discusses manhood and masculinity, comparing the persuasive power of violence with the convincing maturity of peace; economics, gender, sexuality, environmental conditioning and societal roles all come into play as well in this complex and contemplative narrative.

Fourplay — An anthology of four short films by Kyle Henry, Fourplay serves as a provocative thesis on human sexuality and intimacy. Set in four seemingly random cities — Skokie, Austin, Tampa, and San Francisco — Fourplay alternates between the comically absurd and brutally dramatic. There is nothing simple or easy about Fourplay; it is purposefully shocking at times, though the film always maintains a kind and empathetic core. First and foremost, however, Henry always allows his lead characters to reach their climax, each during very unique situations.

Henry is an incredibly unique filmmaker who is obviously not afraid to push the limits of cinema, but I suspect that Fourplay is far too subversive and shocking for most mainstream audiences. That is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think Henry deserves a hell of a lot of credit for having the cojones to make Fourplay (as do executive producers Jim McKay and Michael Stipe and producer Jason Wehling).

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